JFK revisited

Mark Kennedy taps into late U.S. President’s legacy of unity in call for campus to come together as ‘One UND’

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The 1960s were a time of great division in the United States, and the nation needed a leader to pull it together.

That man was President John F. Kennedy.

On Monday, Oct. 10, in his Inauguration address, UND’s newest leader, Mark Kennedy, hearkened the words of that man, the late U.S. President with whom he shares a namesake, as he called for the University to come together as One UND.

Mark Kennedy started his speech with a mention of JFK’s visit to UND in 1963, mere weeks before an assassin would gun the president down on the streets of Dallas. Archival images of JFK’s speech at the old UND Fieldhouse show crowds stacked to the rafters just to get a glimpse – an indication of his charisma at a time of seething divisiveness in our nation’s brave new post-war history.

Mark Kennedy did it because the themes of JFK from 53 years ago –intended then to reflect the state of the nation and world – still have meaning today at UND, a campus trying to come together on a number of fronts.

The UND President used JFK’s words as inspiration that differences can be overcome and a divided campus could unite and become even stronger.

“John F. Kennedy understood that the secret to success was pulling people together as one,” Mark Kennedy said in his Monday address.

John F. Kennedy and George Starcher

UND President George Starcher (at podium) applauds following the presenttion of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to President John F. Kennedy September 25, 1963, in the UND Fieldhouse. A crowd estimated at 10,000 filled the building. Kennedy presented an address on the conservation of natural resources.

Kennedy spoke of watching news coverage of the aftermath of JFK’s passing, as a 6-year-old boy in Pequot Lakes, Minn.  It stuck with him how the nation and world seemed to stop together and mourn the loss of a leader they loved.

The enormity of such a moment in time, in the turbulence of civil rights issues at home and Cold War challenges across the globe, was not lost on the younger Kennedy.

“JFK had pulled together not just our nation, but the world,” Kennedy recalled.

Mark Kennedy hopes to be a catalyst for a similar movement at UND: one where the paths to success start with busting down silos, mending fragmentation and encouraging common ground with others of diverse views and backgrounds.

He said, “We must knit faculty, staff and administration tightly together toward delivery of education that will prepare our students for a lifetime of success, research and creative activity that will propel our state and nation forward, and service that will honor our shared destiny.”

“Interdisciplinary teaching and research must be our hallmark as One UND,” said Kennedy, referencing his mantra for bringing the campus together under a shared pursuit of excellence.

Dana Harsell, associate professor of political science and public administration and chair of the University Senate, said the parallels that President Mark Kennedy drew between JFK’s message about the world in 1963 and UND now resonated with him.

“Here was this young energetic leader in JFK, looking to unify the populace,” Harsell said. “And those are really fitting ideas to serve as a call for action to help unify us and to bring together our campus communities into One UND.”